Sometimes, it seems employees and their lawyers can take even the most innocent event or evidence and find a way to twist it into a discrimination case.
That’s why it’s important for employers to have solid reasons for all decisions. You never know when someone is going to second-guess you.
Take, for example, something as innocent as personnel files that include photographs of applicants and employees. There’s probably a perfectly innocent explanation—perhaps they’re copies of required driver’s licenses or duplicates of ID card photos. But someone looking for evidence of sex or age discrimination might argue the company screens for young, attractive females.
Recent case: Sandra Brady worked for a pharmaceutical sales company and went to an attorney about a low pay raise. She thought the reason might be that the company favored younger, “cheerleader” types.
When Brady’s attorneys checked the personnel files, they discovered that each included a photograph of the employee. This, they argued, was the smoking-gun evidence that age and sex were keys to pay raises with the company.
But the company explained it had the photos because it copied the driver’s licenses of all employees who had to drive while on duty as proof it had checked for a valid license. The judge agreed this wasn’t discrimination evidence, but a perfectly reasonable HR practice under the circumstances. (Brady v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, No. 05-C-5934, ND IL, 2008)